(Sorry this is an hour late; I was being social and working on Christmas cards.)
If you're my age, your first exposure to video games was a social one.
Typically, you were over at a friend's house or attending some family party or whatnot, and your hosts brought out the Pong game --or the Atari 2600, Intellivision, or Odyssey-- and everyone gathered around for a turn at playing Asteroids or Combat.*
MMOs tap into those halcyon days by utilizing the wonders of the internet to play with people from around the world. None of this is exactly new to anyone, of course, but it is important to remember that video games were, at their heart, a social endeavor.
We often forget about the positive social aspects to video games when buried deep in the latest Skyrim or Dragon Age game, or when we're being yelled at to "L2P NOOOOB!!!!1!!" in Arathi Basin. It is quite easy to forget about things beyond the bare bones social contract when you're trying to make your guild's raid team.*** Or when you slew the elite boss guarding the maguffin you need for a quest, and another player ninja steals the maguffin while you were otherwise occupied.
But we MMO players are a community.
There aren't that many of us out there. Sure, WoW has 10 million subscribers, and that sounds like a lot, but not when you consider there are over a billion people hooked up to the net in some form or another. Compared to the rest of the internet, we're a niche within the niche of video gaming.
It's that realization that we consciously seek out social gaming in some form or another that makes MMO gaming special. There are MOBAs and console networks, but those don't have the social interaction on the same level as an MMO has.
What do the following have in common:
- Random Gen Chat discussions.
- Guild goofing off nights.
- PUGs with people who you get into great conversations with.
- Dance-offs at random moments.
- You're attempting to beat an elite boss, you're losing, and suddenly a random passerby jumps into the fray to assist.
The answer is something that all of us who play MMOs know: they're all possible in MMO space. I've been there, and I've seen it happen.
MMOs offer the chance to be awesome, both in the story and between other players. For example, I'll never forget the following exchange (paraphrased) in Tatooine about two years ago:
Player X: Need an assist with [can't remember quest name]
Player Y: I can help. Invite me.
Player Z: Man, you're L50. What are you doing here?
Player Y: I PvP in about an hour or so, but before then I like to hang around low level areas and help out those who need it.
That. Is. Awesomeness.
Make no mistake, MMOs are just a game. We slay internet dragons with our friends. And, more importantly, they are a tool, really, that can foster relationships with others.
It's all about how we use that tool that determines the community we reside in.
Just remember the immortal words of Bill and Ted: Be excellent to each other!
*In a way, it was a bit similar to how I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons; that was a social format too, with a friend introducing the game to me after school while playing over at his house.
**Given that a lot of people had only one television at the time, this meant that you had to work around evening TV shows.
***Office politics remind me a lot of some of the backstabbing that goes on in some of the more high drama guilds. When companies grade everyone on a curve, employees will be tempted to sabotage other employees' work just to make themselves look better.
****No, I can't remember the name of the blog, but I saw their stats.
EtA: Added the graphic.
EtA2: Corrected grammar on story. Sheesh, how'd I miss that?